Print this: the secrets of screen printing

In an age where digital glossiness and immaculate finishes are the norm, screen-printing offers something different

Now that you can get great-quality prints from many good desktop printers, and where high street stores offer speedy, affordable, full-colour printing onto everything from CDs to T-shirts, you would have thought that a time-honoured but messy and intensive technique like screen-printing would be on its way out. You’d be wrong.

Screen-printing is enjoying cult status right now, as more and more creatives wake up to the benefits of getting their T-shirt, poster, and even snowboard designs professionally screen-printed – or even pulling their own prints.

In an age where digital glossiness and immaculate finishes are the norm, screen-printing offers something different: a tactile, handmade and unique product – no two prints are completely identical. It also offers exceptional colour quality and a broad range of inks, from glow-in-the-dark to self-inflating ink that forms a raised surface.

“Screen-printing offers a depth and richness of colour unmatched by giclee [inkjet] reproductions,” says Gerv Havill, who runs Mission Print (www.missionprint.co.uk) in Birmingham. “Screen-printing can also be used to apply spot colours and varnishes that an inkjet can’t handle.”

“The reason screen-printing is good is it allows you to produce relatively small numbers of high-quality prints, using unusual materials like metallic inks, glittery inks or varnishes,” explains Sebastian Lester (www.seblester.co.uk), a typographer who has recently branched out into producing prints.

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Sebastian Lester explored custom-made paper for the limited-edition version of his Home Sweet Home print. “I’m really pleased with how it turned out... It changes colour depending on the angle it’s viewed at.”

Beyond that, screen-printing has its own special demands that challenge your design skills, forcing you to think about how you’re creating images in a way that you don’t when you’re knocking them together on a computer. A successful screen-print is almost a designer’s badge of honour, showing that they can work creatively within the format’s constraints.

“There is virtually nothing a skilled printer can’t screen-print,” says Ric Blackshaw, who runs screen-printing collective Scrawl (www.scrawlcollective.co.uk). “Gradients are easily achievable through halftones and quarter-tones... Most cinema posters are still screen-printed on huge industrial beds.”

Designing for screen-printing

It’s best to leave the advanced gradients and quarter-tones to the professionals, though: many of the most successful prints have a limited number of flat colours.

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